Monday, June 22, 2020

What I've Been Reading...

We've got some rapid fire book reviews on this Monday which doubles as my husbands birthday! Woohoo Dairy Queen ice cream cake!

"Long Walk to Valhalla" by Adam Smith - Picked this short graphic novel off a library display as I was frantically grabbing for things to read in anticipation of a library shut down due to COVID19. A quick read about the bond between brothers in a wretched family situation and a mysterious girl who shows up one day. Odin meets The South.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King - I very much like The Shining, the book and the movie, so I was intrigued by the sequel. I saw the movie first and I thought "this was a decent movie but I bet it's one of those movies that they had to cut out a bunch of things to make it a reasonable length of time". So I read the book. I liked it! It was a completely serviceable sequel to a wildly popular work. I liked grown up Danny, but I love a good redemption story.

"Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London" by Lauren Elkin. I did not like this book like, at all. It was a struggle. I thought it was going to be like "this lady walks around all of these cities and these are her observances about what makes these cities great" and it was not like that at all. It was a lot of whining and long rambles about movie plots that were barely connected and ugh. No.

You're A Miracle (and a Pain in the Ass): Embracing the Emotions, Habits and Mystery that Makes You You by Mike McHargue. I didn't know this author, but an author that I liked had mentioned this book coming out in her newsletter and it sounded intriguing so I checked it out. It didn't quite hit for me and I'm not really sure why. It was a very honest memoir in part (and I don't really do memoirs so maybe that is part of it) and then got very sciencey in others. I felt like it just didn't quite know what it was and struggled to find a cohesive path.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. This book is about 4 sisters who are cloistered on an island with her paranoid parents to keep them from men that are physically toxic to women. Or are they just lying? Meh, this book was fine.

The Last by Hanna Jameson : My first read of the Adult Summer Reading program from my library! A story about a group of travelers stranded in a Swiss hotel during a nuclear war. I liked that it felt like was pretty realistic about how people would behave if you didn't die immediately in a nuclear war. Lots of characters but not too hard to keep straight- there was one storyline that was wrapped up poorly I thought but was otherwise a really satisfying, entertaining book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Book Review: "The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz" by Erik Larson

A ways back I heard that Erik Larson was going to have a new book coming out and I was like well, no matter what I'm going to read it because I love me some Erik Larson. And then I found out he had written another book set during WWII and I was super thrilled! I had preordered the book and was saving it to read during my vacation in France this summer I still read it during the time I was supposed to be in France, except for now it was being read on my couch in my living room or in the office snatching a few pages here and there between meetings.

So this whole book orbits around Churchill and the people who he saw the most during his day to day life during the war (his wife, his kids, his cabinet members, etc). But for context we also hear about Hitler and Goring, who was running the Luftwaffe, the Nazis air force. And when the USA enters the war; FDR. Also this book is the first time where I've heard a lot of details about London during the Blitz. It made me think of a lot of questions about these bombs and how they worked and how (in one particular instance) how a bomb ripped through a basement night club and killed a whole bunch of people - there was a group of people seated at a table and they had no visible injuries but were all killed instantly, but a woman standing not far away from them had her stockings burned off but was totally fine otherwise. But like, these are not things that I feel real comfortable googling. Helllllo watchlist.

Since this book covers a lot of facts I'm going to give you some of my highlights:
  • Hitler and Churchill both HATED whistling. A weird center circle of their Venn diagram but there it is.
  • Churchill was rough on his secretarys and typists. All hours, sometimes he's naked in bed dictating, sometimes you're taking short hand in a speeding car in a time where there is no seatbelts, a day in the life must have been exhausting
  • Churchill's son Randolph was a Class A Dickweed. He had an intense gambling problem and had a habit of leaving maps that had confidential information on them overnight on his "parked on the street" unlocked car. It didn't take long for them to NOT give Randolph those maps anymore.
  • So many stories of bombers on both sides dropping bombs on the wrong cities by accident. German pilots dropped bombs onto a playground in Germany killing 20 kids thinking that they had bombed a city in France.Flying by night with no lights and unreliable maps/navigation - not great!
  • So many Londoners experienced gastrointestinal distress due to the consistent threat of bombings. They called in Siren Stomach, I call it the Anxiety Shits.They had good reason - between 1940-1941 44,652 Londoners were killed and 52,370 were injured. 5,626 of the dead were children.

The facts above may make it seem like it was a super depressing book - it was not. It definitely had sad parts but really highlighted the humanity of everyone who was working hard to provide safety and continued existence in England and beyond. 4 out of 5 stars! The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family ...

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Book review: "There is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love" by Kelsey Crowe, PhD and Emily McDowell

Do you hate greeting card shopping? Everyone in my family but me does. I'm the designated card gett-er if we are doing a group gift because I enjoy the hunt for trying to fit the person the gift is for. But what if there is no good card for the occasion? Like; your neighbor who you talk to occasionally just had a child diagnosed with cancer and you want to be helpful and supportive but you don't even know their last name? A friend loses someone to suicide and all of the cards have flowery, overly sentimental sentiments when you just want to say "oh my god, this is unbelievably terrible how can I help?" (even if you don't know how to help) A coworker is getting divorced and you don't know if it's a "woohoo lost that dead weight let's go to Vegas and celebrate" divorce or a "I've been married so long that even if I wasn't happy I don't know who I am without this person and now my life is in a free fall" type of divorce. There just aren't cards for that.  Usually I just find a card on Etsy that is blank on the inside but has some sort of applicable thing on front.

This book understands that when being presented with these situations people can be so worried about saying the wrong thing that they just don't say anything and shy away from the affected individual which potentially can make them feel even more isolate and crummier. Here are the "three touchstones of showing up" that the book suggests 1) Your kindness is your credential 2)Listening speaks volumes 3) Small gestures make a big difference

What does that mean?

- If you are going to ask a person who is grieving/suffering "how are you?" be prepared to actually sit there and listen to the person. Don't ask and then sit there staring at your watch the whole time because you need to be somewhere in 5 minutes. If you run into someone and you don't have time to talk make a specific suggestion to catch up with them "Hi friend x, I want to spend time talking with you because I know times are hard right now,can I call you tomorrow around 11? Can I stop by the house and bring coffee and doughnuts?"

-"All of our difficult times involve some degree of shame, fear and loneliness/ At times like that we don't need anyone to impress us our skillfully talk us out of our pain. We mostly just need the kindness that compels anyone to try". and "What someone in crisis really needs is not your skilled perfection,but you"

- When you don't know what to say, just listen. It's huge. People need to feel heard. But if someone doesn't want to talk you need to let them as well. (That one is hard for me.)

-Most importantly, if it comes down to saying something or not saying something - say something. Sometimes the (sometimes courageous) act of going up to a person and saying something)even if it sounds vague or stupid (as long as it's not like, offensive) is better than saying nothing. People might not remember what you said but they will remember that you said something.

Emily, who is one of the coauthors on this book has an amazing stationary/gift store online that has some great cards. I love her line of empathy cards.

This was a great, practical, encouraging book and I think it should be required reading.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Inklings Week - Library Lists!

I'm guest posting today over at my friend Jamie's blog for #InklingsWeek!
Check it out here!

Friday, May 1, 2020

Quarantine Day in the Life

I was thinking, this is a pretty unique time in the world. And I feel like I'm never going to forget the weird feelings and the strange desolation that this time brought,but I know I'm going to forget what happened on a day to day basis. I'm not interesting or thoughtful enough to keep a diary, so I thought I would put a typical weekday in the blog for future Wesley with a bad memory :)

7:09-isham - Wake up, dink around on phone

7:20am- Actually get carcass out of bed, put on work out clothes

7:25am-8:10am - Talk to Josh, tell the dog she's pretty, maybe walk or feed her depending on what Josh hasn't done and then go downstairs to our creepy basement to work out. I found a good app for a leg workout but it's an ass kicker so I do that ever other day. On the off days of that I get on our ancient treadmill that we got from Saint Vinny's for like $20 or do yoga or whatever. Working out keeps me from feeling too sloth-y and it's about the only time during quarantine I get to be by myself, so I'm taking it!

8:20amish - Queenie and I go upstairs and shut ourselves in our home office and start our day. Our house is like so many other houses right now with more than one member working from home. Josh interacts with his students through their virutal learning in the morning from the living room downstairs. Because Josh is a notoriously loud talker and he has to take a lot of calls and his computer beeps alot (all things that Queenie hates and makes her anxious) she comes upstairs with me. We close the door and put on some music (lately it's been a lot of cello music or the Chernobyl soundtrack) and try to drown him out. If this day happens to be a Monday I consult my list that I made on Friday of things that I need to do and make sure nothing has changed. I also make a sign that goes on the door of all of the times that I will be on phone calls/Zoom meetings so Josh knows not to barge in or if he is upstairs he knows to be quieter. Then we work.


10:15am - About this time I realize that I need a break. And that I smell from my workout that morning. Time for a shower break! Queenie curls up on the bathmat and it's super cute but she also gets dripped on because she's between me and my towel.

12:00pm - Lunch break! Sometimes I get really luckily and I do virtual lunches with friends, or sometimes Queenie and I break out of our almost soundproof fortress of calm and productivity and eat with Josh.

1:00pm-3:55pm -  Workworkwork (while trying to be consciousness about getting up to stretch and walk around and take a few breaks. No one is trying to come out of quarantine with a bad back). Queenie usually ditches out during this stretch since Josh isn't being as loud during this part of the day. And I'm just not that entertaining!

4:00pm-4:10pm - Quick dog walk and talk to Josh about dinner. We try to switch off a little bit but he is our primary cook. Especially because he has shorter work days than I do these days.

4:15pm-4:45pm - Quick sprint to the end of the day. Make a list for tomorrow, answer some last emails, tidy up so I don't come into a pigsty the next morning, log off sign out stop thinking about work for the rest of the day because work/life balance is important. 

The rest of the evening is some combination of: eating dinner, trying to talk myself out of eating too many snacks, working on a craft (crosstitch and coloring have been favorites lately), reading (though this has been hard to do lately, I don't know why. It's like my attention span is too short or I'm too fidgety . I don't know), watching tv with Josh, doing a zoom meet up with friends, social distancing with our next door neighbors who are always trying to get me drunk with them and I'm like "but I have to work tomorrow" and they are like "oh but really?" (they have a large patio and we bring our own chairs and sit at least ten feet away from them. We are being very safe), putting on lotion, washing hands, talking to the dog, walking the dog and then finally going to bed.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Book review: "Sovietstan: Travels in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan" by Erika Fatland.

I know I am in for a treat when my friend Soulmate Sarah puts a link on my facebook page and says "BOOKCLUB?" Sovietstan was such a book. We both have a love for the slightly more obscure European countries - I lean more eastern european and she leans a little more central Asian/south eastern european but this book had something for both of us. And even if you don't have a strange niche like Souldmate Sarah and I do, I still think this is a book you could enjoy! These countries are often punchlines, if thought about at all - and most Americans can't even find them on a map but they are intriguing enough to fill several books.The countries that the book covers are: Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. 

Here's some interesting tidbits from the book:

  • Even though we tend to lump all of the "-stan" countries together they are incredibly different from each other in so many ways (geographically, politically, economically). Turkmenistan is 80% dessert, Tajikistan is 90% mountains. Kazakhstan has become super wealthy due to oil, gas and minerals. Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have dictatorships on par with North Korea but Kyrgyzstan people have deposed to presidents.So, let's not lump.
  • Ashgabat in Turkmenistan has the most marble clad building per square kilometer in the world. (The people at Guinness say so).
  • The losses that Kazakhstan had during WWII fighting as part of the Soviet Union were monstrous. 10% of the Kazakh population died in connection with "The Great Patriotic War" a loss comparable to Germany's.
  • There are 1400 leftover Soviet nuclear warheads in Kazakhstan - making it one of the world's nuclear powers...which is...weird.
  • At anytime between 1 and 2 million of Tajikistan's 8 million residents is in Russia working and sending the money back home. Not much work to be had in Tajikistan.
  • Kyrgystan is the only post-Soviet country in Central Asia where a sitting president has stepped down of his own volition
There's also a chapter about bride kidnapping - which is awful and terrifying and messed me up for days. 

This was a really interesting book that expanded my knowledge of this part of the world exponentially. Special shoutout to my local public library who didn't have this book and ordered it to have in the collection specifically for me :) All the heart eyes.


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Book Review: "Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History's Greatest Buildings" by James Crawford

This book will have a special place in my reading history as the first book that I started and finished during quarantine! I might have to make a special shelf for that on my goodreads page :)

This books is large, more than 500 pages but chapters are shortish and self contained. They are also in chronological order so you could do some skipping around if you would like and it won't hinder you. It starts way way back in the day with the OG of doomed architectural projects  - Tower of Babel and  ends (almost) with the World Trade Center/One World Trade. (Hello all the feelings on that chapter). If you're like "Wesley, Im not a structural engineer - I don't care about i-beams and load bearing walls" I would say do not fret my friend, it is a book more focused on the historical than the logistical and

Here are a few of my favorite tidbits:

- The Russians took a bunch of artifacts from the excavation of Troy in Turkey at the end of World War II as trophies, you can find them in the Russian State Museum.

- So many interesting facts about the Library of Alexandria: if you were coming into the city and you had a book you had to immediatley report to the library and if they didn't already have that book you had to hand it over. They would copy it and you would get the copy back and they would keep the original. Which is such a hard librarian flex. I hate it but respect it haha.You gotta have a plan if you want a copy of every book ever made, right?

-Did you know that a "milestone" is a symbolic central point of a city from which all of the distances within the city is measure from? Like if I was like "how far is it from Rome to Florence?" the distance is measured from their milestones.

-St Paul's Cathedral is the first English cathedral to be completed within the lifetime of it's original designer

-The guy who designed the Bastille in Paris was it's first prisoner - accused of, among other things, sexual acts with a Jewish woman

-There's a whole chapter on Panopticon prisons and it's bananas

-If you look at Berlin from space you can still see the divide where the Wall was - some will say it's because of the different street lamp lights, some will say it's because of standing economic differences #probsboth.

I really liked this book, it was a good friend during a weird time. 4 out of 5 stars!